Truth is stranger than….

First, the Comedy portion of today’s post – because I’m so happy about the midterm election results in the U.S.:

I have been diligently exploring Chengdu to bring you examples of Chinese signs in bad English. Here’s the beginning of my collection.

It’s a restaurant. Is the food funny, or just the kitchen?

Darling, your house is just delicious! They sell sweets.

It’s the Yummy Relish Eat Bar. Need I say more?

Gimme some more of that funny love, baby….

And now, for the Tragedy:

How I Put Together a Lesson Plan

It’s trial and error. Take this past weekend. First, I had what I’ll politely call “intestinal trouble” for two days, accompanied by headaches and depression. Then, after losing a day in bed, I went searching through the steamy underbelly of the “pirated DVD world” to try to find Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. I wanted to teach a unit on American culture, and what better place to start than with the national pastime, violence? I planned to engage students afterward in a debate about gun control issues.

I spent hours in hot, poorly-ventilated “computer super-centers” in Chengdu, finding everything from Desperate Housewives to Three’s Company to Shirley Temple’s complete oeuvre on DVD. Everything but Columbine. In one six-floor digital emporium, I was beckoned by a woman waving DVDs at me to the very top floor. I then followed her down a long hallway to a tiny office, to watch her unlock a “secret” door leading to the illegal DVD treasures. It was another hot, airless room, and there was still no Michael Moore. My odyssey did, however, result in such treasures as Run Lola Run, a Jean Renoir film The River, and a documentary on Hitler’s Architecture of Doom.

Time to change plans. I was now grumpy and irritable, which made my thoughts turn to the Bush administration. The midterm elections were but days away – why didn’t I design a lesson plan around that? I gave it up after I realized that I would also have to explain the American electoral system to my students, no mean feat. Not only that, but I would have to give them outlines of what we consider the “big” issues: gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, health care, ending the war and occupation, “taking back” Congress, etc. It was too big a job.

What did I settle on for my “culture” lesson plan? That old standby, American consumerism. With the holiday season approaching, every teacher of English as a Foreign Language will be telling tales of consumer frenzy. By now, it was Sunday evening, and I was bushed (not in a presidential way). I fought the internet trying to download actual TV commercials, many of which would not play on the classroom computers anyway, due to lack of software or plug-ins. I also discovered that the Chinese censorship of the internet is unpredictable. Internet connections are painfully slow here, and the sites to which I’m denied access vary from week to week. I can never get Voice of America, and even my own blog is blocked to me most of the time (though I can still post to it). I collected some usable stuff.

I got by on four hours sleep that night. I put together my PowerPoint presentation at 5: 30 am. I worried and agonized. I dragged my sorry butt to class. In a moment of technical difficulties, I said “Shoot!” The students, not distinguishing the vowel sounds, thought I said that *other* word. I didn’t correct the misconception.

The result: a moderately successful presentation on The Language of Advertising, with hi-tech car commercials and advertising terms such as target audience, slogan, demographic, and selling point.

Interesting facts I learned? First, American advertising language is written to be understood at a 5th-grade level. Second, once you purchase a Hummer, you can buy the matching Hummer laptop computer, and take your kid to McDonald’s for the free Hummer toy with a Happy Meal (only for boys, apparently – blatant sexism). Third, in the stupidest products category, the winners are the Harley-Davidson cake-decorating kit (Hell’s Angels in the kitchen?) and the Barbie Doll clothing in actual adult sizes.

In the second half of the class, student groups designed and marketed their own completely useless product. The moral? Consumerism is all about what you DON’T need.

And finally.

Would you like those wrapped?

Discovered in a Chengdu apparel shopping center


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